Why international adoption is still a viable instrument in child welfare

May 11, 2020

After decades of steady growth, the landscape of international adoption has shifted dramatically in recent years. Since 2004, the number of adoptions into the United States from other countries has dropped more than 80% as nations such as Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have halted all intercountry adoptions. While these countries have ceased placing children through international adoption, others have taken strides at improving child welfare systems within their borders, also impacting adoption numbers. Compounding the issue, various U.S.-based Christian agencies have phased out their international adoption programs. 

The decline in adoptions and the changing circumstances raise an important question: Is intercountry adoption still a viable way to care for orphaned and vulnerable children outside of the U.S.?

At Lifeline Children’s Services we believe the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” Serving as president and executive director of Lifeline for more than 17 years now, I believe our position is rooted in several important realities:

Intercountry adoption is not the appropriate solution for all orphaned and vulnerable children, but it is the best answer for some. For the Thaggards of Meridian, Mississippi, it was a no brainer. “There were girls in China that needed parents, and we were parents,” Andrea Thaggard shared. The Thaggards had four biological children of their own when they learned of the need in China for adoptive families. They brought home their first daughter, Mary Elizabeth, in 2006. The Thaggard family would later grow by five more children from China, rounding out their family of 12.

While there has been a steep decline in the total number of children adopted into the U.S. from abroad, there has also been a sharp increase in the percentage of children being brought home who have significant special needs or circumstances that prevent them from finding permanent homes in their country of origin. Intercountry adoption provides an opportunity for children with special needs, children who are part of large sibling groups, or older children to find the permanency of a family. Additionally, adoption provides a way for these children to have access to the medical, therapeutic, and educational resources they need.

Three of the Thaggard’s children were born with congenital heart defects, one child was born with brain damage, and one child was born extremely premature and malnourished. Their son, Adam, had severe Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and one of his lungs was paralyzed, Andrea explained. “When we got him home we found out he had even more medical issues that weren’t even in his file. . . . He’s had three open heart surgeries in the U.S. and he’s now thriving. He’s a warrior. We helped him grow stronger by medical intervention, but seeing him go through these things like he does, makes us stronger and see God’s handiwork.”

In-country solutions take time to develop. Lifeline is engaged in many nations around the world and helps mobilize local churches to adopt and foster children within their own communities. We believe the Body of Christ represents a significant, long-term hope for orphaned and vulnerable children. Over the last several years, we have witnessed exciting developments in Colombia, India, Romania, and Uganda as local churches focus on domestic adoption and foster care, raise up and train families to care for children coming from hard places, and develop partnerships with the government that allow the Church to be part of the solution. 

Yet, in many areas of the world, these movements are just beginning. It is incumbent upon us to “fan into flame the gift of God” that has been given to the global Church to care for orphans in Jesus’ name, but the counterbalancing reality is that we are years or decades away from these efforts providing family-based permanency for all children who stand in need of adoption. For this reason, intercountry adoption remains the best solution for many orphaned and vulnerable children who need gospel-centered families today.

We know the Bible calls us to care for the orphan. Much of the current criticism around intercountry adoption revolves around the socio-emotional cost of moving a child from one culture to another. As Christians, we must see this consideration for what it is: significant but not preeminent. In Scripture, the greatest concern for all image-bearers of God is the crucial need for belonging to a family — not necessarily preserving culture or ethnic identity. The central issue is one of discipleship. As the Apostle Paul so succinctly frames in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

The first question we must wrestle with as Christians regarding child welfare, then, is theological not sociological: Are we placing children in families where they will be nurtured to know, love and follow Jesus? Clearly, Scripture points to the home and the family unit as the place of belonging, security, and discipleship. As a ministry, Lifeline continues to believe in intercountry adoption because we know that the permanence of family and the discipleship that family provides is God’s plan for children — and the best way to provide a family for some children is for them to be adopted into a family across national, cultural, and linguistic lines.

For the Mauldin Family, the call to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” was manifested through the process of adoption. Their son and daughter, Cameron and Lizzie Claire, were both adopted from India. The Mauldin's know the people of India, including their children, were created in God’s image and created to know Him (1 Tim. 2). “We share the gospel (with our children) through everyday opportunities,” Taylor Mauldin explained. “Our kids are affirmed in their worth and they understand that Jesus loves them, God is for them, and their future is secure in his grip.”

Finally, we believe in intercountry adoption because we are committed to educating and walking through life with families. When a family adopts, they are stepping into a complex reality knowing that they are not enough to bring hope, healing, and a future — but God is. No matter if intercountry adoption is hard, uncertain, or even at times unpopular, we are confident in the education and tools that exist for families (and their communities of support) that help provide even the hardest to place child a sense of belonging in a physical family. Methodologies and cultural trends will come and go, but the need of children to be nurtured and discipled by a family will never fade. As long as those children are best and most appropriately helped through intercountry adoption, we will strive to make a way for Christian families to bring them home. Though there may be fewer families coming forward for intercountry adoption, there is still a larger role for the Body of Christ to play — supporting families and children that have come together through the gift of adoption.

Herbie Newell

Herbie Newell is president & executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms. He holds a Master’s of Business Administration in Accounting from Samford University. Under Herbie’s leadership, Lifeline has increased international outreach to 25 countries through adoption and strategic orphan care, obtained licensure in 17 states, and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24